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Author interviews: The art of speaking clearly.

POSTED BY doug ON August 25, 2010

Remember when you were in high school, and the quickest route to an “A” paper involved enormous, unnecessary words?

“While not expediently told, Great Expectations is a masterful and very interesting tome of great literature.”

“Martin Luther King inspired many people including suffering individuals who had prejudice laid against them and together they undertook a euphoric march so that they could gain the rights they, so desperately, were wanting.”

I don’t know about you, but stuff like that was essay gold for me.

Thankfully, I’ve calmed down on the flowery adjectives in my own writing. But published authors? When it comes to interviews, both written and spoken, sometimes they need help too.

I’m lucky to be working with a couple of authors right now at PR By the Book who are both really excellent at giving concise, pat answers. It’s a tough skill to learn. There’s just so much to say about your book! However, giving a good interview usually isn’t about how much information you pack in. It’s about leaving the listener wanting more.

One author who does this extremely well is Seth Godin. I have a crush on that man’s BRAIN. How is he able to say so much, with so few words? It’s like a magic trick. Check out a snippet of an interview he gave Media Bistro recently:

Media Bistro: What are three of the biggest mistakes people make when trying to build their brand?
Seth Godin: Impatience. Selfishness. Spending money instead of conquering fear.

Eight words!

(By the way. In that interview, which ran last Friday, Seth says he’s done with traditional publishing. Did you hear that? Oh, he’ll still write and publish books … but his stance on traditional publishers is pretty clear.  “In terms of responding to changes in the world, I’m at a loss to think of one thing the book industry does well in 2010 that it wasn’t already doing in 1990. Not one new thing done well.” Ouch.)

Here are two essential tips about speaking clearly, from one of my other favorite bloggers / modern-day philosophers, Penelope Trunk of Brazen Careerist:

1. Be interesting. The questions people ask you are not really what they want to know. It’s what they think will be interesting. They would ask you about the price of tea in China if they thought the answer would be interesting.

So your job in an interview is to give an answer that is entertaining and thought-provoking and all the other things that people like. You don’t need to answer the question as much as you need to answer the need for interestingness.

2. Be short. The world does not have an unlimited attention span to hear how your mind works. So you can’t think out loud in an interview and have everyone wait til you get to your point. Your point has to start right away.

Also, if you are short then you are more likely to be interesting the whole time. The longer you talk about a given topic the harder it is to keep someone’s interest. In the PR world this is called “soundbite”. But really, you can use the sound bite technique everywhere – on radio, in a blog post, on a date.

Authors: What’s your best advice on speaking clearly?

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